Donald Trump has long claimed that there was “no collusion” between his campaign and the Russian government. Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani has taken things further, insisting that “collusion is not a crime” even though “collusion” is not a legal term to begin with, and collusion to commit a crime is indeed a crime. But as of today, that verbiage is all officially out the window. Forget collusion. We’re now talking “treason” – or at least Michael Flynn’s judge is.
Special Counsel Robert Mueller recommended that he get a free pass as a result of his cooperation with the investigation into Donald Trump. But Flynn couldn’t leave well enough alone, and told Judge Emmet Sullivan that the FBI had treated him unfairly. This prompted the judge to blow the whole thing open today. By the time the judge was done questioning him, Flynn admitted that he had indeed knowingly lied, and that the FBI hadn’t done anything wrong. But then came one word that instantly changed the game for Donald Trump.
The judge brought up yesterday’s arrest of Michael Flynn’s business partner for conspiring with Turkey against the United States. Mueller’s team confirmed that Flynn would have also been charged in it if he weren’t a cooperator. The judge asked Mueller’s team if Flynn could have been charged with treason. That’s right, treason.
Mueller’s team generically said that treason charges weren’t considered, and the judge made clear that he was merely asking the question, not accusing Flynn of treason. But by that point it didn’t matter; the word “treason” had entered the lexicon in the criminal investigation into Donald Trump. Nor does it matter that the judge was asking if Flynn committed treason by conspiring with Turkey, not Russia. Flynn also conspired with Russia; it’s just that those details are still largely under seal due to the role that Donald Trump and Mike Pence appear to have played in Flynn’s plot with Russia.
The pundits, the media, and the public have largely left the concept of “treason” out of the Trump-Russia scandal. That’s partly for fear of jumping the gun, and partly based on misunderstanding of the word itself. Many people think treason charges require a declaration of war, when the prosecutorial history of treason makes clear that it merely requires an act of war. Some legal experts believe the Russian government committed an act of cyber war against the United States when it hacked the 2016 election.
But while we’ll see a lot of pushback against the word treason today, both from the pundits who don’t want to get ahead of the narrative, and from those who simply can’t accept that they’ve been working with the wrong definition of the word, the reality is this. We’ve gone from a public debate about whether Donald Trump “colluded” with Russia – a legal gibberish term that no one understands anyway – to a public debate about whether Donald Trump committed treason. That changes everything.
Bill Palmer is the publisher of the political news outlet Palmer Report